Colson Heritagededicated to Colson family genealogy

Searching for the origins of the Colson, Coulson, Coleson, Colston, Collesson, and related surnames.


There have been Colsons living in the Americas since the early 17th century. I have found Colson congressmen, Colson mayors, Colson pioneers and even Colson Revolutionary and Civil War heroes. Considering the comparative infrequency of the surname, I feel it is safe to say that my forebears who claimed to hail from the same areas must have familial ties. Proving the direct connection has always been the challenge of genealogy. So often there is one important missing link that makes it impossible to continue back with any certainty. For me, that enigmatic ancestor is MILTON K. COLSON.

I have spent quite a bit of time studying every reference I can find of Milton Colson, but have never been able to verify with any degree of certainty who his father is. I know that there are millions of people out there similarly scouring the Web for evidence of their pasts as well. It is my hope that someone will stumble across this article and help me connect the dots, and maybe along the way I might be able to aid in their discoveries as well. To that end, I will now attempt to explain what I know for a fact and/or can safely assume to be true from extant documents.

Milton K. Colson was born in 1832 in Overton County, Tennessee. The first document I have of Milton is a marriage record where he marries Martha Ann "Patsy" ARMS on 15 November 1849. The following year, on 11 September, they can be identified on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Overton County, District 4, page 96B. Milton COLSTON* is 19 and his wife, Martha, is 16. They are living between the households of John Arms, Martha's father, and James Colston, who some have claimed to be Milton's father. I believe that is an erroneous assumption made solely for the purpose of filling in a blank on the family tree. Regardless, by the time of the 1860 Federal Census (21 June), Milton is found in the home of John SMITH (District 8, p. 232). He is listed along with another young man as "Farm Labor". Among John Smith's five children is (Ruth) "Elisabeth" Smith, who would marry Milton on 18 October of the same year at the age of 15. Milton would go on to serve in the Civil War, desert, and die of presumably natural causes before the 1870 Federal Census.

[*Note: I use "Colson" and "Colston" interchangeably here. Milton, like several others in his family, alternated the spelling over the course of his life. I will make every effort to use the appropriate spelling when referencing a document. For more information about how the level of literacy has changed our names, see my article "Variation of a Surname".]

There are, of course, more documents than I have just mentioned that let us know more about who he was in life. Muster rolls show where he served in the war--interestingly, he enlisted on the side of the Union while many of his relatives fought for the Confederacy. Census records show who his children were allowing us to trace our lineage. What all of the documents fail to answer is who is his father? To discover where Milton came from, we must consider all of his family members.

As previously mentioned, in 1850 Milton is living between his father-in-law, John Smith, and James (Madison) Colston. Also living in James Colston's household is his wife, Mary, their eight (8) children, and his 67-year-old mother, "Susan" (Susannah GRAINGER). I am very confident that Susannah is Milton's grandmother and this is where we must begin in our effort to uncover Milton's patronage.

According to the book "The History of Clay County Tennessee, 1870-1986" [Clay County Homecoming '86 Historical Book Committee, Celina, TN 38551. Turner Publishing Co., Paducah, KY], George Colson, along with his wife Susannah (maiden name possibly GRANGER or GRAINGER) and son, "Allen William" (most commonly written William Allen) arrived in Overton County from North Carolina around 1803. It further states that George's father was Thomas Colson/Colston of Frederick County, Virginia, and that his mother's name was unknown. His older siblings were Elizabeth, Thomas and William. While it should be noted that there has been some difficulty in verifying the information through census records, that is not the primary purpose of this article and will therefore be ignored for the time being.

George M. Colson is quite an enigma in himself. According to the previously cited book, he arrived in Overton County in 1803 by way of North Carolina. In the 1790s, the Cumberland Gap, as explored by Daniel Boone over a decade before, was widened to accommodate wagon traffic and became known as the "Wilderness Road". This led to an influx of early settlers into Tennessee and Kentucky. George and his family appear to have first migrated into nearby North Carolina before heading west into the Cumberland region of Tennessee.

The most confusing aspect of George M. Colson is that he never appears--as best as I can discover--on a census record in Tennessee. That makes it hard to known when exactly he died. He had six known children: William Allen, John, Bethel, Mary, James Madison and Campbell Colson. As Campbell was born about 1820, it would appear that George died sometime after that. There is a record of a George Colson on the census of Rockingham County, NC, showing only 2M (free white males 16 and older), 4M (black male slaves) and 4F (free white females) in the household (p. 530). Some have attributed this record to our George Colson, but that requires us to alter the presumed year of birth from 1780 as he would have been only 10 years old. Either way, William Allen was not born until 1802 which means George and Susannah did not marry until probably around 1801.

The first record of the George Colson family in Tennessee is on 1830 Federal Census for Overton County where "Susanna Colston" is listed as the head of the household (p. 179). To compound the difficulty in identifying everyone in the home, prior to 1850 census records only provided the name of the head of the household. All other members were only shown by gender and age range (e.g. M 20-29). We must use other documents to fill in the gaps.

In the case of Susannah, the census shows that, in addition to her F 40-49 (she was 47) there were seven other people living on her plantation: M 20-29, F 20-29, M 15-19, F 15-19, M 10-14, F 10-14, and F 00-04. With a bit of deductive reasoning, it would seem that Susannah still had some of her children living at home: Bethel (24); Bethel's wife, Elizabeth (19 or 20); Mary (22); James Madison (18); and, Campbell (10). The last two female children are unknown. It is possible that they are also children belonging to her and George. If so, that would place George's death much closer to 1830. By the 1840 Federal Census, Susannah Colson has only two others in her household. The M 20-30 must be Campbell (20), and the F 15-20 would be the younger of the two females from the previous census. The older one likely has married and is living in someone else's household. Without additional documentation, it will be impossible to know where. Likewise, the youngest female also disappears by the next census.

As previously mentioned, by the 1850 Federal Census "Susan" is living with her son, James Madison, possibly on her own planation. She died about 1860, which would make her 77, and therefore does not appear on the census that year. I am confident that she is Milton's grandmother. Our search for Milton's father requires us to consider all of George and Susannah's male children as possible candidates.

William Allen Colson was born 01 October 1802 in North Carolina. He appears on page 174 of the 1830 U.S. Federal Census of Overton County as Allen Colson. He seems to have gone by his middle name most of his life which would explain the Clay County history book recording him as Allen William. Even his tombstone at Crossroads Cemetery bears the name Allen Colson. He married Martha Patsy CLARY (born 1802) in 1825. on the 1830 census, his family consists of: himself, (aged 28), M 20-29; his wife, Martha, (28), F 20-29; Mary Jane, (5), F 05-09; George Washington, (3), M 00-04; and Susan, (1), F 00-04. They are living next to Archibald Arms, who served under General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans (c.1814).

By the time of the 1840 Federal Census for Overton County, Allen Colston (p. 14) has a very large family. He and his wife are both now 38. They have ten children living in the home: F 10-14, M 10-14, F 10-14, F 10-14, F 05-09, F 05-09, F 05-09, F 00-04, M 00-04, and F 00-04. I have separated the listings (e.g. 3 females between the ages of 10 and 14) and identified all but two by correlating the genders and ages with the children named on the 1850 census still living in the home in 1850. They are:

Mary Jane (15), George Washington (13), Susan (11), UNKNOWN F 10-14, Nancy E. (8), Sara Frances (6), UNKNOWN F 05-09, Hannah Ellen (4), John R. (2) and Martha Emeline (0). Milton would have been 8 years old. While there is a remote possibility that he was mistaken counted as a female and is the younger unknown female, I do not think it is very likely. First, he would have had to have been born a twin of Nancy, also 8. Secondly, neither Milton nor his children are mentioned in William Allen's will.

By the 1850 Federal Census, "Allen Colston" is still living in District 4 of Overton County (p. 99B) and has another daughter, Permelia (8), in the house. George (22), Sarah (16), Hannah (14), John (12), and Martha Emeline (10) area also still living at home. There is also a Berry Grace (M 30) listed in the household. Next door is William Allen's youngest brother, "Camel" (Campbell) Colston. William Allen died 26 November 1873.

George and Susannah's second son, John "Coleston", born about 1804 appears only once on any record that I have been able to locate. He is on page 180 of the 1830 U.S. Federal Census for Overton County. He is living with a 20-29 year-old female, presumably his wife. He does not appear on any subsequent census in the area. It is possible that they moved away as John's younger brother moved all the way to Illinois by 1837.

There were no children living in the home as of the time of the 1830 census, so it would appear that John had only recently been married. Milton was born in 1832, which would have been a little more than a year or two after John's marriage. If they did move away, something brought Milton back to live next to his grandmother and uncle by 1850. The other possibility is that John and his wife died while Milton was still a young child, but that still lends the question where he was raised. The most likely answer is that he was living with his widowed--and even possibly remarried--mother at the time of the 1840 census who has just not been identified yet.

Bethel Colson, the third son of George and Susannah, was born about 1806 and is first seen in 1830 living with his new wife, Elizabeth, on his mother's plantation. The next record of him comes from Brown County, Illinois on the U.S. Federal Census (p. 168) under the name Bethel COULSON. It is believed they moved between 1834 and 1837.

It is interesting to note that on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Township 2SR3W, Brown County, Illinois (p. 142B), Bethel Colson lists his place of birth as North Carolina. While that would seem to dispute the fact that the Clay County history book recorded his family's arrival in Tennessee as being in 1803, his place of birth was subsequently listed as TN on the next census.

Returning to the 1850 census, Bethel and his wife have five children in the home: 3 males 5-10, a male under 5 and a female under 5. Using the 1850 census, they are identified as George (9), William (6), and Jethro (3). The names of the third male and only female are not known. It is immediately noticeable that Milton, who would have been 8 at the time of the census, could fit neatly into the role of the unidentified boy. The female would have been either a year older than Jethro or aged 2 and under. Either way, she would have been too young to be married in 1850. It seems likely that she died before the age of 12. As for Milton, it does not seem reasonable that he would have moved with his family all the way to Illinois between the ages of 2 and 5 (1834-1837) only to move back alone to Overton County alone by the age of 19. He would have had little or no memory of those Tennessee relatives.

Mary Colson, Bethel's younger--and possibly only--sister was born in 1808 and was living with her mother in 1830. In 1833, she married Abraham Rutherford Sevier also of Overton County. On the 1840 Federal Census, She is in the household of Abraham R. "SOVIER". Also in the home is her father-in-law, Abraham, Sr. (80-89). She is now 32 and her husband is 33. They have five children in the home: 2 F 05-09, 2 M 00-05 and a F 00-05. Two of the girls can be identified as daughters Susan (16) and Elisabeth (13). The rest cannot be named with any certainty. There is also a woman between the ages of 30-39 (possibly a sister or step-mother to her husband). Milton does not fit into any of the blanks here, so I will not bother to elaborate any further on Mary other than to note that by 1860, her and Abraham are living in Deepwater, Henry County, Missouri (p. 885).

The fourth son of George and Susannah was James Madison Colson, born 1808. He was 18 and still living in his mother's household at the time of the 1830 census. He appears as James Colston on page 44 of the 1840 U.S. Federal Census for Overton County. By this time he is married and has 2 sons. As previously mentioned, many people have tried to label Milton as one of James Madison's many children; however, he would have been 8 and the two boys are both shown to be 5 and under. Additionally, his wife, Mary, would have been 14 at the time of Milton's birth. Using the next census, we can identify the 2 males as Archibald (2) and George (1).

At the time of the 1850 Federal Census, we find James Colston living with his wife, their growing brood of 8 children as well as his elderly mother, Susannah. His children were: Archibald (12), George (12), John (9), Robert (8), Maria (6), Martha (5), Sarah (4), and Julia (1). In 1860, James and his family are still in District 4 of Overton County (p. 187). He is now 48 and Mary is 42. Archibald has moved out and is living with his Aunt Mary (Colson) Sevier in Missouri. In addition to the other children, ranging from George (21) to Julia A. (11), there are Allen (10), Joseph (5), Jonathan (4), and twins Marion and Washington (2). Next door to them are John R. Colston (22) and his wife Martha (16); his brother, William Allen Colston (57) and his youngest daughter, Permelia (18); and, George (34), Martha (24) and Permelia Colston (3).

The youngest of George and Susannah's known children, Campbell, was born in 1820. In 1830, he was a 10 year-old boy living on his mother's plantation along with his older brother Bethel; Bethel's wife, Elizabeth; his brother, James Madison; and his sister, Mary. In 1840, he is still living with his mother, Susannah (57) and another unidentified female aged 15-10. Campbell married Delilah KILLIAM or KILLAM (1823-BEF1854) about 1842. He is first identified as the head of his own household on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Overton County, District 4 under the name "Camel Colston" (p. 99B). He is 30 and living with his wife, Delilah (27), and children, William J. (7), Sarah J. (5), and Thomas (3). He is living next door to his oldest brother, William Allen. According to an account given by Justena (Colston) CHANEY at the Hedrick Colston Reunion about 1932, Campbell Colston was born 21 March 1816 and was raised in Overton County. His family came by ox wagon to the Ohio River where they took a boat down the Ohio to the Mississippi and to the Illinois River. They landed at Meredosia, Illinois where they continued their journey by ox wagon to the home of his brother, Bethel, about 15 miles southwest of Mt. Sterling, Illinois. They established a home nearby where his wife soon died. He later met Margaret Hedrick CLAPP.

The account provided by Justena explained that they knew little about her father's (Campbell) family as he did when she was young. However, Sarah, his oldest daughter, remembered as a child visiting their Grandmother Colston's plantation where she lived in a large white house and had many slaves working to pick large baskets of cotton. About 1854, Margaret Hedrick Clapp married Campbell. He was a widower with three children at the time, William J., Sarah J., and Tom. They moved to Morgan County, near Yatesville, where they established a home. Their first child together, Francis Marion, was born on 21 March 1855, which it was noted was Campbell's birthday. The following year they had twins, Susan Ann and Elizabeth Ann, named for their grandmothers. Mary Ellen in 1858 and Martha Emeline was born in 1860, when they bought a piece of land about three miles north of Sinclair. Then followed James Allen in 1862, Louisa Carolina/Caroline in 1863 and Justina/Justena Campbell in 1886, about sever months after the death of her father on 11 May 1865. Delilah was left a widow with 8 small children.

Considering all of the facts, I fell it is most likely that Milton is a son of John Colson, the second son of George M. and Susannah Colson. His father died by the time Milton was 8 years old and he was raised by his mother, whose name we do not know. She likely lived nearby and had regular contact with the family as Milton would marry Martha Ann "Patsy" Arms on 15 November 1849 whose family lived next door to Milton's uncle, James Madison Colson.